UTSA Volleyball’s Soerensen balances volleyball career and neuroscience research (2024)

UTSA Volleyball’s Soerensen balances volleyball career and neuroscience research (1)

FEBRUARY 15, 2024 — When UTSA volleyball player MiaSoerensensuffered a concussion in the fifth grade, it turned out to be a life-changing experience that would forever shape her path.

Soerensen,a neuroscience major in the UTSA College of Sciences, had to travel several hours from her hometown of Meadville, Pennsylvania for treatment and rehabilitation with her neurosurgeon. That ordeal would inspireSoerensen’sacademic and career interests.

“I had a pretty traumatizing concussion and I had to do a lot of rehabilitation for that,”Soerensensaid. “It was quite the hike, but she was one of the best doctors I’ve ever had in my life. I was like ‘I want to be her.’ That was my moment of inspiration, so now I’m on this path. That doctor was someone I wanted to be, especially maybe in my hometown where there’s not many of those doctors and people have to drive super far.”

“This is the one thing in my life that I’ve been passionate about for so long. I’ve always been really passionate about science, so it just kind of made it easier to pick what field I’m interested in.”

Soerensen’sparents – Rainier and Carrie – first met at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania where Rainier played basketball and Carrie competed for the volleyball team.Soerensenspent the first five years of her life living in Germany, before moving back to Pennsylvania following her parents’ divorce, growing up in the neighborhood of her parents’ alma mater.

There were two constants inSoerensen’slife growing up – volleyball and an interest in neuroscience.

“You have things in your life that are hobbies that you’re interested in, but they’re like phases,” she said. “This is the one thing in my life that I’ve been passionate about for so long. I’ve always been really passionate about science, so it just kind of made it easier to pick what field I’m interested in. That’s what keeps me going.”

Soerensenattended Kent State as a freshman, approximately 100 miles from her home. She made an immediate impact as a rookie, ranking third on her team in kills, points and attack percentage with nine double-digit kill performances.

She decided to transfer following her freshman season.Soerensenwas looking for a home that featured the best of both worlds – a high-level volleyball program and a top academic program for neuroscience.

“I think neuroscience is a new major at a lot of schools,”Soerensensaid. “That was one thing that was really important for me was finding a school that had the program I could continue studying from Kent State to here.”

UTSA head volleyball coach Carol Price-Torok, who had just completed her first season at the helm of the program in 2022, was immediately interested in bringingSoerensento San Antonio.

“She got into the transfer portal early,” Price-Torok said. “I think [assistant coach] Ryan [Vorderer] did a great job jumping on early and identifying players that could help our program be successful. We got in touch with her and started creating a relationship. I think we can be in the mix with anyone and get them on campus. We show them San Antonio and UTSA, what we have here and how special it can be.”

On her official visit,Soerensenvisited with Jenny Hsieh, Semmes Foundation Distinguished Chair in Cell Biology, a leading expert in neurology under whom she is now studying.

“I got to meet with Jenny Hsieh and another undergraduate student in the lab,” she said. “I have all these great female role models in the lab that I work in and that’s something that I really value.”

She also was impacted by a meeting with UTSA President Taylor Eighmy, who mentionedSoerensenin his recent State of the University Address.

“He is so knowledgeable about the things going on at his university,”Soerensensaid. “I think it is really important to have someone who is proud of everything going on, especially in the science field. He’s truly an intelligent individual and it was great to talk to him. I have met with him a few times after my official visit also.”

Price-Torok knew that UTSA would be exactly the right fit for the 6-foot-4 right-side hitter.

“We knew that academics were going to be a big piece for her,” Price-Torok said. “We were just really blessed to get her connected with President Eighmy who got her hooked up with Jenny in neuroscience and the rest is history.”

It didn’t take long forSoerensento make her decision.

“I came on a couple visits and I fell in love,” she said. “I transferred at semester, so it was a very fast process but I knew I made the right decision.”

Upon arriving on the UTSA campus,Soerensenhas made an immediate impact both on the volleyball court and in the lab.

She was named an All-American Athletic Conference Second Team selection in her first season wearing the navy and orange.Soerensenstarted 28 matches for the Roadrunners, posting a team-high 386.0 points. She also led the Roadrunners in kills (337, 3.18/set) and ranked ninth in the AAC in kills per set.

“She constantly wants to improve,” Price-Torok said. “She’s working on a lot of stuff on the court. She’s just so self-aware and does a great job of communicating what she needs and what she needs to do. We hope everyone takes a page from her book with that problem solving.”

As a self-motivated high achiever,Soerensenhas worked hard not to put too much pressure on herself or compare herself to others.

“I try not to compare myself to anyone because we’re really all on our own path and our own journey,”Soerensensaid. “It is good to have that comparison sometimes because you can push yourself, but in a healthy way. Another way I look at it is that you just have to wake up every day and try your best for the day. You don’t have to try your best for the whole week in one day. It’s just one day at a time.”

Soerenseneven recently hosted a session with her teammates about the importance of positive self-talk that has been helpful in the squad’s chemistry and success.

“It was all about what they should be telling themselves,” Price-Torok said. “It’s something that she works on every single day and something that I’m really, really proud of. Neuroscience is a perfectionist-type major so she has to get rid of that when she comes into the gym and be okay training and be okay making mistakes. She’s showed our team that you can be a problem-solver and do hard things, just making sure that you communicate and stay organized.”

Being there for her teammates isSoerensen’stop priority.

“I try to remember that people always remember how you made them feel,” she said. “Being a supportive person in people’s lives is the most important thing to me. College can be scary sometimes. We’re all on our own. Having someone that is supportive is a good feeling.”

According to Price-Torok,Soerensen’scare for her teammates shines through on a daily basis.

“She’s a really, really great teammate,” Price-Torok said. “The players love her. She really cares for each player individually. That’s huge for us moving forward.”

The support thatSoerensenreceives as a student-athlete from UTSA Athletics has made her difficult balancing act manageable.

"I think the support is amazing,” she said. “We have a lot of staff here in the RACE [Roadrunner Athletics Center for Excellence] that supports me a lot academically and gives me all the resources I need to succeed. Carol and the other coaches area always checking in on me to make sure I’m doing alright – trying to gauge what the workload is like and how I’m feeling. The support of my teammates has been amazing.”

Soerensen’sresearch work with Hsieh focuses on epilepsy, something closer to her heart as both her grandmother and half-brother suffer from seizure-related conditions.

“This is such a coincidence,”Soerensensaid. “I just happen to be working in a lab that’s researching epilepsy and that’s something I’m really interested in learning more about. I think it just worked out that way that we happen to do exactly what I’m interested in.”

Following graduation,Soerensenhas plans to attend medical school to become a neurologist.

“That’s kind of always the route that I wanted to do – to become a physician,” she said. “I’m hoping to stay in Texas. I really like it here. But we’ll see; you never know where it will take you.”

Soerensen’sendeavors in both academics and athletics have complimented one another to make her highly effective in both aspects of her collegiate experience.

“She takes great pride in what she does in the lab and has found a really good niche here within the program,” Price-Torok said. “It’s really just helped her blossom on and off the court. I think the work that she does there – how precise she needs to be and how much detail goes into that – has really helped her create great habits on the volleyball court, as well.”

As accomplished as she is in her own right, serving others has always been front and center inSoerensen’slife.

“I was raised that way,” she said. “It’s just always been important to me to give back to my community. I was raised to think of others first and that’s where that comes from.”

It is hard to imagine thatSoerensenhas time outside of her busy schedule to participate in community service, but she contributes weekly to Haven For Hope, a 501(c)3 founded in 2006 by UTSA Athletics supporter BillGreeheyand designed to assist those experiencing homelessness in the San Antonio community.

“They have a really great program for getting families back on their feet and going to serve those people,”Soerensensaid. “I’ve learned that it’s really all about your mindset. The people in there are so friendly and nice. You wouldn’t really know that they’re struggling as much as they are. And I feel like just being a happy face to them means the world. It’s honestly been a great experience.”

Soerensenhas been involving her teammates in her community service, which has proven beneficial in more than one way.

“I brought one of my teammates with me the other day – Cheyenne Hlady – and I feel like it’s a good bonding exercise,”Soerensensaid. “You get to learn more about your teammates and you can see the impact you’re making.”

EXPLORE FURTHER

There is perhaps no better word for all thatSoerensenhas done since she first arrived at UTSA than impact. Whether it’s her work on the volleyball court, in the research lab or within the San Antonio community, she continues to make a difference on a daily basis.

“If you’re really passionate about something and you want to achieve a goal, you’re going to do anything you can to achieve it,”Soerensensaid. “Picking UTSA, I knew I would have all the support I need, which is one of the main reasons I’m here. I have so much support and love around me.”

Sean Cartell

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of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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UTSA Volleyball’s Soerensen balances volleyball career and neuroscience research (2024)

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